My LD Experience history and WTF Aliens!? post-mortem

Posted by (twitter: @_Gaeel_)
August 29th, 2012 4:43 am

WTF Aliens!? is a Rythm/Shooter game. This post is a post-mortem of the development of that game.

This post is also a commentary on my Ludum Dare experiences so far, I found my involvement to be enriching and interesting so far, and I’m going to tell that story before going into the specifics of WTF Aliens!?

OMFG Aliens!

My first Ludum Dare entry was for #21. That entry was also my first ever video game.
The theme was “Escape”, and I recently played a tower defense game, and came up with a little mechanic of spawning the creeps in the middle, and having to place turret to contain them.
I opted for C++/SFML which turned out to not be the best option, I had issues with memory management and classes, which I don’t usually have, but given the tight timeframe, it was difficult to keep things tidy and functional.

One thing that DID work for me though, was that I came up with a simple, interesting mechanic, and rolled from there. Music has always been a strong point for me, so I made sure the game sounded nice, and I made the creeps green and said they were aliens in the flavour text. Hence the title I gave it: “OMFG Aliens!”

This first taste of Ludum Dare has changed me deeply, I’ve learnt a lot, I’ve gained confidence, I trust myself to be able to think on my feet and get things working when everything seems to be against me.

Solitas Exodae

For Ludum Dare #22, I opted for a simpler framework: Lua/Love2D, and it turned out to be a good option. Making games with a high level scripting language pulls the focus onto the design rather than the implementation. Another benefit is the ability to change code and simply relaunch the game instead of having to recompile, which makes experimentation much more confortable.

The theme for #22 was “Alone”, and to be honest, I had NO idea how to build a gameplay mechanic around this. Instead I focused on a quirky happysad feel, and then added a twist near the end which brought in a more disturbing aspect. As I submitted “Solitas Exodae”, I was dissapointed at the blatent lack of gameplay, but the feedback I got was AMAZING. People who tried the game praised the amount of emotion the game induced, and some even told me they had to take a break afterwards to process it. These reactions may have been exagerated for effect, but it felt great to have offered a game that got such positive feedback. The fact that I scored 2nd for Mood, 3rd for Audio and 5th for Theme confirmed this feedback, and I was excited that I could make a game that had such a huge impact on people.

Robot in the Garden

This is where things stay kind of good, but go downhill a little. Ludum Dare #23, theme “Tiny World”. I basically tried to reproduce the success of “Solitas Exodae” with “Robot in the Garder”, imitating the low resolution pixel style, with a few particle effects and a quirky audio ambiance. But this time it didn’t catch on, and in a way, I’m glad.

I didn’t make much of an effort making “Robot in the Garden”, I never gave gameplay much though, and assumed that if the pixels were pixely enough and the music was quirky enough, then I had another winner on my hands. The truth though, is that “Solitas Exodae” worked because the mood came from within, and I simply rolled with it, whereas in “Robot in the Garden”, I never game gameplay much thought, and instead chased after a mood that couldn’t really stand by itself.

The problem with this game wasn’t that the mood didn’t work, but that mood doesn’t often MAKE a game, instead in enhances a game.

I’m happy with this game in a way, but I’m dissapointed that I didn’t take the unique chance that Ludum Dare offers to go ahead and do something new.

WTF Aliens!?

This brings us to this Ludum Dare #24 that we just enjoyed, and the world famous theme, “Evolution”, has finally gone through.

The original idea that I had for this game was to have some kind of rythm game where the music would evolve as you went on, and your abilities in the game would also evolve. THAT aspect of the game I failed COMPLETELY, in fact, the only thing that evolves is that the game gets harder as time goes on.

I made the game alien themed, and decided that this game was a sequel to “OMFG Aliens!” and called it “WTF Aliens!?”. In a sense, the aliens from the first game evolved and now know how to use flying saucers. Yeah, it’s a totally cack way of shoehorning in the theme, but I ran out of time.

HOWEVER, I did what worked with “OMFG Aliens!” and “Solitas Exodae”, I chose something new, something that was just a slither outside my grasp and went for it. I like shooting aliens and I like music, so I went ahead and made them work together. And mostly, I’m proud of this game, it can come out last, and I’ll still be happy because I made a game I can see myself updating in the future, and I enjoy playing to try to get higher scores than my last playthrough.

What I’ve learnt here is : Make games that mean something to YOU, and you’ll be proud of your game.
“OMFG Aliens!” and “WTF Aliens!?” are lunch break shooty games with electronic music, a bit of humour and aliens, which always bring a smile to my face when I enjoy the cheesy brain dead fun that I get from them.

“Solitas Exodae” I made in a odd moment of my life, and while it isn’t a game I can replay, simply because there isn’t any actual gameplay to it, it meant a lot to me at the time. And I think the emotional impact came from the emotions I felt I needed to express when I made it.

“Robot in the Garden” doesn’t mean much to me, I’m proud of the technical feats, and I’m happy with the way it looks and feels, but it doesn’t carry the emotional weight that an “art game” should, and doesn’t provide the gameplay that an actual game should. I simply tried to cash in on the success of “Solitas Exodae”

And NOW for the post-mortem:

The idea of a game where tapping commands in time with a beat has been in my head for a while, and I was curious about how it could work. Note the key difference with a classic rythm game where you have to type the commands the game tells you to. In this game, you’re free to take your own actions, but doing so in rythm grants you bonuses.

In the original version, the player tapped four commands for the four beats of a bar, and then the game interpreted those commands while the player tapped in the next four. This was frustrating as it was hard to figure what was actually happening, and things got out of hand pretty quickly. So I implemented a “ghost” that would interpret immediately, so the player could see what would happen next, but it became apparent that is was more interesting to control the ghost directly, so I made the player character behave like the ghost and removed the ghost.

Another problem I had was syncing up multiple audio loops, which explains the lack of music in the game, since I only got that part working near the end of the compo. I would really have liked to have a little more variation in the music.

Then the final problem was telling the player how to play the game, since commands are tapped in with the beat, you get one “move” per beat, even if you spam the key faster. So if players didn’t understand this, they would become frustrated at a game that responds oddly. I didn’t want to include a forced tutorial either, since they get in the way when you want to play a game. And a seperate tutorial meant making a menu, and also making some kind of seperate level.

Instead, I added a dialogue between the player character and the commander, with speech bubbles which enhance the cheesy comic-book feel. And I simply go to the next part of dialogue when the player has performed the required action at least once. So players who know how to play can ignore the dialogue and get on with getting their high scores.

What went well:
– The game has an interesting mechanic
– It provides an addictive experience
– I like the humour and style I came up with
– Speech bubbles were fun to code

What went wrong:
– I was a little too ambitious, and didn’t have time to implement some key features
– It’s a little hard to communicate HOW to play the game
– Synchronising two beats is REALLY hard in Love2D, and I had to “cheat” a little
– Where’s the theme?

Play here! I hope you guys enjoy my game, and please let me know what you think. I’m thinking of making a revamped version with different levels, more weapons, more enemies and more music, does that sound like a good idea?

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